Sanctuary for the Abused
Friday, August 26, 2005
The Greatest Escape: Special for Victims of Domestic Violence
The following tips on escaping domestic violence are meant to help you in your initial planning to get free of the violence and to guide you through the first steps of seeking help. Keep in mind that the suggestions and thoughts provided here are presented only to assist you in your own thinking, and they shouldn't be taken as absolutes. So read the text here, gather as much information from others as you can, and then remember that you know your own circumstances best. Your own thinking and intuition about what to do is your best guide of all.
Part I: Things to Think About
Your Struggle to Escape Domestic Violence Is Heroic. The most admired heroes of any culture are those who have stood up to tyranny and oppression and fought for liberty and justice. Yet rarely have these acclaimed heroes battled alone, without weapons or troops of any sort, with children in tow, and with the enemy entrenched in their home, in their hearts, and sleeping in their beds.
Yet these are exactly the extreme and painful conditions under which women all over the world set out to make their escapes from domestic violence. And even so, right up until today, the bravery of women's struggles for freedom is still too often met with the cruelty of questions like "Why don't you just get up and leave," instead of being given the admiration and respect their struggles deserve.
So as you start out on your own struggle to get free of domestic violence, remind yourself often, even though others may not, that yours is one of the most difficult and worthy struggles of all. You are rescuing yourself and your children from a life of terror and crushed spirits. Your struggle to escape the oppression of domestic violence elevates the dignity of all women, and brings your whole community closer to the ideals of liberty and justice for all.
You Deserve Help! You're Going to Need Lots of Help. You Can Find Help! Living with domestic violence and all the degrading isolation and insults that go with it, you may be feeling ashamed and unworthy of asking for help. It's important to remember that it's the abuser who made you feel this way, and that it's his behavior that is criminal and unacceptable, not yours.
You deserve as much help as you need to get you safely free of the violence and securely started on a peaceful new life. Because abusive men establish so much control over so many parts of a victim's life, very few women get out of domestic violence without getting lots and lots of help. So don't be shy about asking for help every step of the way.
In Part II we tell you about some of the formal and official places you can go for help. But some of your most sympathetic support can come from the everyday people around you; from friends, neighbors, family members, co-workers, your children's teachers, people at your church, your work, or your school.
More and more people everywhere are aware of the damage and the wrongs of domestic violence. And even if you don't know them very well, many will be happy to have the opportunity to help you. So start by making a list of the people who your intuition tells you are kind, smart, and supportive. As you make your way out of domestic violence, there are going to be many occasions when their help can make all the difference in the world. They can help with an afternoon of child care, by accompanying you to police, to court, and to appointments with officials, by making phone calls to get information, by providing transportation, helping you deal with the landlord, helping you keep a notebook, talking to your employer, lending you money, and much more.
You don't have to tell people everything to ask for help. But do try to start talking to people, and you'll be surprised how many will be sympathetic. If you still feel timid about asking others to help, pick one person and ask that person to make the requests for you. Or ask a victim advocate to call these people for you.
You Have Many Legal Rights. Know Your Rights.
If you live in the United States, whether or not you are married or single, whether or not you are here legally, you have many legal rights. Most violent, abusive men lie to women about their rights, to make you believe you don't have rights, and to make you believe he can get you in trouble. They especially do this if you are an immigrant to the United States. So it's very important for you to know your rights.
You have a right to equal protection of the laws. You have a right to take your children and hide yourself and your children from your violent partner, even if he is their father. You have rights to express yourself freely. You have rights to associate with whomever you please. You have rights to come and go as you please, at any hour of the day or night.
You have rights to refuse sex at any time. You have a right to have sex when you want, and with whomever you want, if the other person also wants sex. You have a right to use birth control. You have a right to choose if and when you want children, and if so, how many children. You have a right to have an abortion based solely on your own decision. You do not need your husband's permission to have an abortion.
You have a right to live free of violence and threats. You have a right to equal protection of the laws even if in some way you have broken a law, such as using drugs, or driving without a licence, or entering the country illegally.
You also have many rights that are related directly to your escape from domestic violence. We've detailed those rights and how to exercise them in another booklet called, Know Your Rights.
As you make your way out of domestic violence you're going to need to exercise many of your rights freely. At the same time it's very possible you'll run across one or two people who don't respect your rights or who are willing to directly violate your rights. The people who do this may very well be the same people whose job it is to help you.
When this happens it's very important that you don't give up. And it's very important that you don't think that it's your fault. There are also many people and officials right in your own town who are willing to fight very hard for your rights. If anyone disrespects your rights, immediately seek help from others. Tell a friend. And ask that friend to help you find other professionals or officials who will help you.
Dealing with Fears and Risks.
Most all domestic violence victims feel fear. Sometimes these fears are so intense they can immobilize you and keep you from acting on your own behalf. There is the fear that if you try to leave your partner his violence will only get worse. There is fear that you won't be able to make enough money to feed your children, fear that you may become homeless, fear that the police might side with the abuser or simply ignore you and put you in more danger, fear that the abuser may take the children from you, and more. And always there is the fear that if even one of these things actually occurred, it would be devastating.
The truth is your fears are justified and the risk of these things actually happening is also very real. That's why so many women remain trapped in domestic violence. The dangers of trying to get out of domestic violence without strong support and adequate protections are all very real. Without the proper protections in place, it's true that your partner's violence will probably escalate as you try to leave. It's true money doesn't fall out of the sky just because your children are hungry. It's true there are still too many sexist police who may ignore you or take your partner's side, and without proper protections, it's also true that most abusive men will attempt to use or take the children in order to keep you under his control.
We spell this all out because too many people think women should be able to just get up and walk out of domestic violence. Or they think that women are just exaggerating and being overly fearful. You might even think these things yourself. But you are not crazy or stupid because you feel trapped by the fears. The dangers of leaving domestic violence are very real.
So here's two key things that should help you to start dealing with your fears. One, over the last thirty years women rights groups and society have created many very effective protections to help you deal with each and every one of the risks. And even if things go momentarily wrong there are backup protections and corrections that can be made along the way. As you read through the rest of this text and begin to ask others about the resources and safeguards that are available to you, you should start to feel some relief from the anxieties of your fears.
Two, having friendly, supportive people at your side as you go through your escape will greatly reduce your fears. If you're like most victims of domestic violence, your partner's abuse has kept you very isolated from human contact. This isolation greatly magnifies your fears. So start reaching out and start talking openly with others, now.
The Best Strategy for Breaking Free of Domestic Violence Is often the Exact Opposite of the Strategy for Surviving in Domestic Violence. In order to survive in domestic violence women usually do everything possible to avoid offending or upsetting the abuser. While living in domestic violence most women avoid asserting their own power. They especially avoid a show of power that might in any way be seen as a challenge to the abuser's power. In addition, in order to survive in domestic violence women usually minimize the physical and mental harm to themselves. Women bury their own resentments, needs, and pain, and stay intently focused on the needs of the abuser. Women trapped in domestic violence are also generally very careful not to reveal the abuse to others in order to keep others from confronting the abuser and setting him off on another round of attacks.
These survival strategies aren't unique to women in domestic violence. These are the survival strategies practiced by prisoners of war, slaves, citizens of totalitarian states, and by all human beings who find themselves trapped living under violent, oppressive regimes.
Escaping from domestic violence, on the other hand, generally requires the exact opposite strategy as that used for living under domestic violence. Escaping requires gathering your strengths and asserting your power against the abuser to the maximum extent possible. It requires focusing intently on your own and your children's needs while suspending your vigilance for the needs of the abuser. And it requires repeated and open telling of the details of the abuse to others so they can best be of help.
It can be very difficult and very frightening to make this kind of a sudden shift in your behavior especially when you are exhausted, beaten down, and in terror. So the more you can rehearse yourself mentally for this shift, the better you'll be able to focus your energies when you need them.
Don't Be Ashamed If You Still Love Him.
Many women love the men who abuse them, and this is nothing to be ashamed of. The things you love about him are probably very real and very worthy of love. So don't get down on yourself for feeling love. It is completely possible to love the abuser and to simultaneously be conscious and determined that his violence and abuse must be stopped. And if you're reading this, you probably already know that he's not going to stop on his own, because you've probably tried, and begged, and pleaded, and he's promised and promised, and then he's turned around and broken his promises again and again and again.
It's also possible that you don't love your abuser anymore. And that's nothing to be ashamed of either. Remember, it was he that extinguished the possibility of love, and not you.
What if you don't want to get him in trouble?
This is a common feeling among many domestic violence victims. Unfortunately, what often happens when women try to protect the abusive man from trouble is that you and your children end up in worse danger, and the abuser ends up getting in worse trouble than before.
It happens like this. The victim holds back and doesn't tell the police everything, or she doesn't go to police at all and just gets a restraining order, or she tries to leave without any protections. In short, the victim tries to use the minimum power to escape the violence in hopes that that will be sufficient to make the abuser stay away and stop the violence.
But the great danger in using this approach is that an abusive, violent person is almost always willing to use even more violence in order to re-establish his control. So if you don't build your wall of protection high enough, the abuser will recognize that immediately, and almost certainly escalate his abuse to get back in control of you one way or the other.
So consider this other strategy. Consider using the maximum power against him, all at once. Tell the police everything, get the restraining order, get custody of the children, get him kicked out of the home, call the police again if he so much as calls you to say he's sorry, don't drop the restraining order, and follow through on the criminal charges - even if you hold hopes of getting back with him in the future.
In the first place, this strategy protects you so that you have time to think and breathe and act without having to worry about him coming up behind you. Second, it focuses the abuser on the immense weight of the system coming down on him, and shifts his attention off of you. Third, this approach shocks the abuser. It makes him feel off balance and out of control, so he's the one worried about what could possibly happen next. Fourth, it delivers the message clear as a bell that any wrong move or attempt at manipulation on his part is futile.
By overwhelming the abuser, all at once, with as much weight as you can bring against him, it serves not only to best protect you and your children, it also serves to protect the abuser from even thinking about retaliations and from getting himself in worse trouble yet.
There are no guarantees about which approach will work best for your situation. But in our experience, the best way to get the violence stopped once and for all is to put as much power of the system against the abuser as you can, and keep it there. And this is true even if you hope to get back together. In fact, it's especially true if you have hopes of getting back together because you want to drive the lesson home as hard as possible that his abuse will simply not be tolerated, and that he will be held accountable.
What if You Don't Want Him to Go to Court or Jail and You Just Want Him to Get Counseling?
This wish is similar to the above, and is also very common. It's also based on a misunderstanding of the judicial system. In general, the courts cannot order someone into domestic violence counseling unless the person has been found guilty of domestic violence. And in order to be found guilty of domestic violence, the person must be charged with domestic violence, and go through the court process.
In general, however, if the court finds a person guilty of domestic violence, if it's the person's first offense, and if your injuries were not severe, it's most likely that the court will order him into counseling and not into jail.
But the Children Need Their Father.
The concern for the children's future relationship with their father is a heartbreaking conflict for many women. In fact, it may appear to you that your abusive partner seems to get along quite well with the children. The first thing you should know is that no matter how serious the abuse, it is highly unlikely the courts will completely sever the relationship between the children and their father. What the courts will very likely do is supervise the relationship between the children and their father until the court is assured he is not harming them.
The other thing you should know is that even if the children aren't being directly abused by their father, the domestic violence against you is seriously effecting and damaging the children. All the research shows that children of all ages are aware of the violence and abuse, even if you think they are sleeping while the actual violence is going on. In fact, the younger the child, the more serious the effect. The research also shows that your partner's abuse against you frequently does long term damage to the kids.
Remember, you are the children's mother. The children are dependent on you for their security and nurture. When the children see their mother living in fear and humiliation and despair, the children's lives are also filled with fear, humiliation, and despair. This is true even if the father doesn't directly abuse them. Children who live in a home where there is domestic violence frequently have learning difficulties, emotional problems, and behavior problems. These problems often continue all the way into the child's adult life.
On the other hand, when the children see their mother put a stop to the abuses, the children are not only rescued from the immediate oppressive environment, they also learn one of the most valuable lessons of their life. They learn that they themselves don't have to take abuse. They learn they have a right to make abuse stop in their own lives. It's an invaluable lesson they carry with them for the rest of their lives.
So as you take your own steps to break free of domestic violence, talk to your children often. Talk with them in many short conversations that don't overwhelm them with too many details. Ask them how they feel. Assure them that their father will always be their father. Tell them the separation doesn't mean that their father doesn't love them. Tell them directly that some of his behavior was abusive, and no one should tolerate abuse, so their father needs a long time out. Tell the children it wasn't their fault. Tell them it's OK to be sad. It's OK to miss their father and love their father. And it's OK to be angry with their father, too. Explain that you're helping their father and the whole family by putting a stop to the abuse.
No, You Are Not Crazy! When you live 24 hours a day under the threats and fears of abuse (emotional, verbal, physical) in your home, you become very traumatized, not crazy.
It may feel like you're crazy because you've been holding so much of your pain and suffering inside. But once you get free of the violence and abuse, these feelings of being crazy will usually start to go away on their own. Sometimes it can take three or four months or even more, and with lots of ups and downs. So don't give up because things don't change overnight.
Take one step at a time. Keep focused on the tasks you have to take care of and on your goals. At some point too, you may want to take advantage of the many counseling services available for victims of domestic violence to help you sort it all out. But, no, you are not crazy! And once you get out of the abuse and back on your feet, you're going to be just fine.
Reawaken Your Dreams
One of the many serious injuries of domestic violence is that your hopes and dreams are often extinguished by the abuse, sometimes to the point that victims of domestic violence can't even remember a time when they had hopes and dreams. This happens because when another person has violent control of your life, there's no way to pursue or fulfill your own dreams. S your mind suppresses the dreams.
At the same time, you're going to need your hopes and dreams to help you through the obstacles and hard times of escaping. So even though your life may be very difficult as you make your way out of domestic violence, take a minute here and there to think about all the sweet things you'd like to have in your life. Dare to dream again, even if in the moment it seems impossible to attain your dreams. One of the things women express to us all the time after they've been out of domestic violence for a while is that they just never believed it was possible. But it is possible! And you can find happiness again, too.
Part II Sources of Help!
Victim Advocates, 911 Operators, Police, Domestic Violence Shelters, Rape Crisis Centers, Victims Assistance Centers, The County Jail, The District Attorney's Office
The following is a description of some of the professionals and officials whose job it is to help you get safely free of domestic violence, to help you get justice, and to help you put together a new life. As you make your way out of domestic violence, you're going to be dealing with one professional after another. Many will be very helpful, but along the way you're bound to run into one or two who may treat you with disregard. When you come across a professional or official who is not treating your situation seriously, don't give up. And don't accept mistreatment. Get help from others, so they can work with you to get the situation corrected. You have a constitutional right to equal protection of the laws.
Victim Advocates: The victim advocate's job is to help victims like you by being supportive, by answering your questions, by helping you find counseling, explaining to you how the system works, helping you get restraining orders, accompanying you to official interviews and to the court, fighting for your rights, listening to your problems, informing you of your options, and giving you advice. In other words, the victim advocate should be like a trained best friend, someone who is knowledgeable and on your side.
The law in most states (including in California) says that victim advocates must keep everything you say completely confidential. Advocates cannot talk about your case with anyone unless you give permission. In fact, victim advocates should not take any action on your case until you give them permission to act. (The one exception to this rule is that victim advocates who specialize in domestic violence are usually mandated to report suspected child abuse.)
Calling and connecting with a victim advocate is a good place to start getting out of domestic violence because you can discuss all your doubts, fears, and questions with the advocate and be completely assured that the advocate will keep your conversations confidential. You can find victim advocates by calling your local woman's shelter, your local rape crisis center, local victim assistance centers, or by calling the police or the office of the district attorney. Most victim's centers have advocates available to talk with you 24 hours a day. Also most victim centers (at least in California) have advocates who speak the most common languages in your area in addition to English.
There are a couple other things you should know about victim advocates. Advocates have no official powers. They can't take any official action on your case such as filing charges against the perpetrator or making an arrest or approving a restraining order. However, because of their knowledge of the system some victim advocates are very effective at pressuring the system to get you the justice and protection you deserve. Some are not. As with all other persons you go to for help, if you're not getting what you need from your victim advocate, you should seek another who will help you.
The 911 Operator: The 911 operator is much more than a telephone operator. 911 operators are trained to handle your emergency domestic violence call. They are trained to help you stay calm. They are trained to ask you the critical questions, to give you emergency advice, to quickly access important documents in your case such as restraining orders. And they are trained to get you the help you need as soon as possible. 911 operators also have immediate access to professional interpreters in close to100 different languages.
So when you call 911, stay on the line with the 911 operator as long as you safely can. Try to stay on the line until the police arrive at your door. Listen carefully to her or his voice. Answer all the operator's questions completely. Tell the operator as much as you can about the abuser's violence and threats. Tell the operator about any weapons available to the perpetrator. Tell the operator if the abuser has been violent in the past. Tell the operator your fears. Keep talking! And if you have to run or leave the phone for your safety, don't hang up!
Here is some other important information you should have about your 911 call:
All 911 calls are tape recorded and saved as evidence. The tape recording of your 911 call is frequently a key piece of evidence in your case. So keep talking! Don't hang up!
Talking and staying on the line is especially important if you don't speak English. Remember that if you don't speak English a professional interpreter will quickly come on the 911 call with you and with the operator. Tell as much of your story as you can to the 911 operator and interpreter because the officer who arrives on the scene may not speak your language. And though the police should also get you a professional interpreter, some do not. So your 911 call may be the best opportunity you'll have to get across an accurate account of your story. Also remember, the information you give the interpreter will be passed on to the officer who's coming to your call.
At the same time that the 911 operator is asking you questions, she or he is also summarizing your call to the officer en route to the scene.
If you dial 911 but for some reason you can't speak, or if you have to stop speaking, don't hang up! Just by having dialed 911, the 911 system automatically finds your address. In addition, by leaving the phone open even if you have to run, the 911 operator can gain critical information about what's going on just by listening to the sounds in the background of the call.
Police: Over the last ten years police have been given extensive new powers to help and protect domestic violence victims. New laws encourage police to make arrests in domestic violence cases. In most states police can also write you an emergency protective order on the spot. Using these emergency orders, police can kick the abuser out of the home, give you temporary legal custody of children, and order the abuser to stay away from you and your children. In addition, most all police have been given specialized training in the dynamics and investigation of domestic violence. Detailed police department policies generally mandate that police carry out thorough and clearly defined investigations on all domestic violence calls, mandate that police provide you with extensive follow-up information, and mandate that police offer you a range of services for your safety.
Here are some other things you should know in order for you to get the best help possible from police.
Police can only use their powers when they suspect a crime has occurred or is about to occur. So when you deal with the police it's very important to focus on telling the police about the abuser's criminal behavior towards you. In domestic violence, examples of criminal acts are physical violence, sexual violence, threats of violence, vandalism, kidnaping, holding you against your will, and violation of restraining orders.
Your experience of domestic violence probably includes much more than these criminal acts, such as the abusers insults, his lying, his foul language in front of the children, emotional betrayals, and more. But these things are not criminal. It's very hard for most domestic violence victims to separate it all out, since all of it, the criminal and the non-criminal acts, are damaging and painful to you. But when you are talking with police, try to stay focused on the abuser's criminal acts, and to give the officer as much evidence of those acts as you can.
As a victim of domestic violence, you can report to police at any time. Though it's always better to call police right away after an attack because evidence is fresh, you can go to police the next day, the next week, or the next month. You can dial 911 if you have an emergency, or you can walk into the police station and request an officer at any time.
Don't Hold Back! Tell the Officer Everything! The domestic violence crime report that police write following your call is usually the single most powerful document you will have in determining your future safety, your access to justice, your access to victim assistance, and more. The domestic violence crime report written by police can also be the most significant document in a contested restraining order hearing, contested child custody, and in any other legal problem you may have with the abuser. The police report can also be extremely helpful to you in any related problems you may have with your landlord, your job, your family, with immigration, and more.
So don't hold back. Tell the officer everything. Tell the officer the details of the most recent incident. Tell the officer about any evidence or witnesses you can think of. Tell the officer the specific threats the abuser has made to you. Tell the officer if you are afraid for your or your children's life or safety, and tell the officer why you are afraid. Show the officer all your injuries. Tell the officer about any weapons the abuser has used or has access to. Tell the officer what you know about the abuser's criminal history.
And more, tell the officer the history of the abuse. Tell the officer about the worst incident that has occurred. Tell the officer if the abuser has ever forced you to have sex. Tell the officer if the abuser has ever hurt the children. Encourage your children to tell the police what they know too.
If after the officer has left, you remember important information that should be in the officer's report, take out piece of paper and write out the information. Take your written statement to the police station as soon as possible and ask the front desk person to please have the statement added to the report on your case.
If you get a police officer who responds badly to your case or an officer who doesn't do a complete job, do not give up! Unfortunately, despite the training and new laws, there are still too many officers who don't take domestic violence seriously. The bad attitudes and behavior of these officers are extremely dangerous to women. If this is the kind of officer who responds to your call, it is not your fault, it is the officers fault, and you deserve much better.
Here are some things you can do:
Take a few pieces of paper and write out your story yourself as best you can. Take it to the police station and ask the person at the front desk to add this statement to your police report.
Or you can call the 911 operator and tell him or her that you still need help, or that important information was left out of your case.
Or you can call the police station and ask to speak to the sargeant on duty, and tell the sargeant that important information was left out of your case.
Domestic Violence Shelters and Programs: If you fear for your life and feel that the protection of police and courts is not sufficient to protect you, you should call the domestic violence shelter in your area and ask for shelter. If the shelter is full, most shelters will refer you, and help you get to a shelter in a neighboring county.
In addition to providing safe housing, domestic violence shelters generally also have victim advocates, counselors, support groups, children's programs, and other programs available to help you. You can use these professionals and their programs whether or not you are staying at the shelter.
Domestic violence shelters also have 24 hour crisis lines where you can call and talk with a domestic violence counselor day or night. The counselors on these crisis lines will be sympathetic and supportive. They are good listeners, and can inform you about the services available to you.
Don't be afraid to call domestic violence crisis lines any time of day or night. All your communication with the crisis line counselor will be completely confidential. And if you're still worried about the privacy of your story, use a false name when you make the call. The phone number for the crisis line in your area is probably in the front of your phone book, or can be obtained by calling the telephone operator.
Rape Crisis Centers: Sexual abuse and rape are a very common part of domestic violence. Many women find it very difficult to talk about this aspect of domestic violence. And though domestic violence advocates may have some training in sexual violence, you may feel more comfortable talking about these things to an advocate who deals specifically with sexual assault.
Like domestic violence centers, rape crisis centers have confidential 24 hour crisis lines, support groups, advocates, and other services to help you.
Victim Assistance Centers: Most states have established state monetary funds to help crime victims by paying for your counseling needs, medical expenses, emergency needs related to the crime, and by making up for wages you may have lost as a result of the crime. These state agencies usually have local offices. Ask your police department or domestic violence crisis line counselor for the location of the victim assistance office nearest you.
To be eligible for the victim assistance funds you need to have made a crime report to police. Then you need to fill out the necessary forms at your victim assistance center.
The County Jail: Though it may seem strange to think of your county jail as a source of help, once your partner is arrested, the jail is one of the first places you'll probably want to call. The jail can give you critical information about your partner's status, and, if you request it, the jail can notify you if they are about to release your partner. Most jails can be called 24 hours a day.
So if your partner has been arrested, call the jail and give them the full name of the person arrested and their date of birth if you have it. The jail can then tell you (in fact, they are obligated to tell you) if that person is currently in the jail. They can tell you the amount of bail, the booking charges, and the person's next court date, time, and courtroom. This information can be invaluable for many reasons. If you suddenly wake up in the middle of the night afraid and wondering if your partner has gotten out of jail, a call to the jail can reassure you and make it possible for you to go back to sleep.
Knowing the amount of your partner's bail can help you evaluate whether or not he's likely to get out. And if you feel the bail amount is too low, you can call the prosecutor (the district attorney) on your case, or write a note to the judge, and ask that the bail be raised.
When someone is "booked" into jail, the jail records the crimes the police suspect he has committed. These are called the "booking charges". These booking charges are not necessarily the charges the district attorney will file against your partner, but these booking charges do give you a general idea of what the final charges may be. In regard to your partner's next court date and time, this is information you can usually obtain from a number of sources. But very often the fastest way to get the information is by making a call to the jail. Remember, the jail won't have any of this information if your partner never went to jail or if he has bailed.
There is one other very important thing the jail can do for you if you request it. If you are a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, the jail can notify you if your abuser is about to be released. You should keep in mind, however, that if the jail attempts to get a hold of you because they are about to release your abuser, and they can't find you, the jail will probably release the abuser anyway.
District Attorney's Office: When the police finish writing the report on your domestic violence case, they send the crime report to district attorney's office. After reading the report, the district attorney's office decides whether or not to file formal charges against your partner, and they decide what those charges will be.
If the district attorney decides not to file charges, that will be the end of the criminal case against the abuser, unless you object, and usually you'll have to object strongly.
If the district attorney does file charges, you'll want to know what those charges are, who the district attorney is who is assigned to the case, and when and if you'll need to testify. Usually you can get the answers to these questions by simply asking the district attorney office receptionist who answers your phone call.
As the case progresses, you'll likely have many more questions for which you should definitely get answers. Your first stop in getting these answers is to again call the district attorney's office. Or ask a victim advocate or smart friend to make the call for you.
Remember: The thoughts and sources of help we've laid out here are just to get you started on your struggle to be free of domestic violence. As you set out on your own unique path, you're going to have many more questions and needs along the way. Ask questions. Ask for help. Don't give up if someone gets in your way. You deserve peace, happiness, freedom, and justice, and all the help that's needed to get you there.